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What makes a father kill his children?

© John Campion 2012

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“What makes a father kill his children?” asks Nicci Gerrard in her Daily Telegraph article of October 10. Apparently the question is purely rhetorical, because she tells us.

In the case of Michael Pedersen – the IRA nail bomb survivor - it was “In despair and rage, out of revenge and shame, [driven by a] monstrous narcissism …”. Nicci Gerrard is a writer of fiction. As someone who has been to the dark place that Michael Pedersen was in, and worked with countless men over a period of some thirty years who have also been there, I probably understand things a bit better.

Wanting to have children, to love them, to raise them as best one can, to guard them and care for them, are some of the most powerful instincts that humans possess. When those instincts are shared with a partner, reciprocated by their children, mutually understood, and publicly declared in marriage, it makes for a powerfully bonded family unit. Destroy that bond, and you are in for trouble. And destroy that bond is what the state does, through the divorce courts, on a massive scale. Professor Richard Whitfield of the National Family Trust has called this the holocaust of the family, creating what sociologists call a matrilineal society – one on which the majority of children will have permanent contact with only their mothers. It is the family unit of the animal kingdom, the stone age and the urban slum. The consequences of this are everywhere to be seen.

I will not dwell on how this parlous state of affairs has come about; I have written about it elsewhere. It is a shabby tale of politically motivated intrigue and mendacity. Its effect is that a perfectly decent husband and father is treated no differently from an adulterous, abusing or deserting one, and an adulterous, abusing or deserting wife and mother is treated no differently from a perfectly decent one. Whatever the circumstance, a father can have his children, home, capital and income confiscated from him by the courts, not on the basis that he has done anything wrong, but on the basis that his wife does not want to live with him any more. The marriage has “broken down” is the anodyne phrase used to disguise what is no more than a nasty little extortion racket run by lawyers.

There are often many aggravating factors. Destruction of a career is one. Seeing a wife’s lover usurp one’s place beside one’s children is another. The prolonged battle to overcome the legal, logistical and psychological barriers that obstruct access to one’s children is yet another. Emotions are fuelled by a powerful sense of injustice that is not quelled by a social environment that fails to acknowledge that anything is wrong.

Fathers are often left in a state of overwhelming helpless grief, rage, fear and humiliation. Murder of adults in such a situation, shocks, but does not surprise me; it is a natural and proportionate response to a situation in which a man has no legal defence against someone destroying his life. The murder of children, however, is less easy to explain. Language is a poor substitute for experience, but I will do my best.

In 1984, unwillingly driven by circumstance, I divorced my wife on the grounds of her adultery. She had violently abducted our two-year old daughter to conduct an affair with a family friend. The black farce of the court proceedings supported her but not me. I had driven her into the arms of another, and her lover was a good thing because he provided my daughter with a “father figure”. I was to get out of the way and just provide money to support this “reconstructed family”. With my career in ruins, financially devastated, and in a state of extreme shock and grief, I was barely able to carry on. I was only able to do so through the support I received from my family, and medication I received from my doctor.

Shortly after the divorce, during an access period, I had taken our daughter for a short holiday to my beloved Lake District. One night, when I had bathed my daughter, read her a story and settled her for the night and she was asleep, I was left brooding on happier times and the utter bleakness that the future offered. I was overwhelmed with the thought that I could not face a future without my daughter. I felt that, if I could just quietly kill us both there and then, we would be at peace together for ever. Something like that. But, through the fog of despair, rationality and compassion broke through. My daughter had a right to a life, even if it was a life without me, and that thought seemed to trump everything else. We both lived.

But later, after many months of struggling to salvage some remnant of fatherhood out of the wreckage of my life, and having my emotions constantly wrung out at every access visit – relief and great joy at my daughter’s coming; anguish and despair at her parting, I became completely and utterly exhausted. I could take no more and I wanted to kill myself. I only failed to do so because I was not sure that my bottle of anti-depressants at my bedside would kill me.

A friend told me bluntly that I had to “let my daughter go”. If I did not, I would certainly go mad or kill myself. So I mentally let my daughter go and I survived. The dismal drifting to the margins of my daughter’s life over a period of many years followed. We are still in touch, but it is a shallow relationship, more like an uncle and niece than father and daughter.

So, when I read of tragic cases such as that of Michael Pedersen that occur with sickening regularity nowadays, I do not judge them; I just think “There but for the grace of God go I”. My hand was stayed, but theirs was not. Who can know what chance factors came into play? I feel immense sadness and immense anger. But my anger is not directed towards the father, but towards those who have placed him in such an intolerable position, that he is driven to kill those he loves.

I had hoped that some good might come from this evil – that people would wake up to the cruel destruction that the divorce courts are inflicting on fathers and their families. But, when I read the man-hating bigotry of people like Nicci Gerrard, I despair. Where is there hope when the most natural, precious and wholesome of things – the love of one’s child, is dismissed as selfishness and narcissism?

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Peter Douglas Zohrab

Latest Update

10 August 2015